Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Samsung Galaxy S5 initial impressions

Samsung Galaxy S5. Image: Android Central
Yesterday I shared my initial impressions of the Xperia Z2. Overall I was quite pleased with what the Z2 brought to the table. Yes it's a small update over the Z1, but when you release a new flagship just several months after your previous one, that's to be expected. Still, it did bring some welcomed improvements, like better display technology and front-facing stereo speakers, and it still looks stunning, so it's good enough. The S5 on the other hand, left me a little flat. Now I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of Samsung, or their devices, but I do give credit where it's due. I'm always saying how the Note line of devices are the best in their class. In fact, I think they are the only devices in their class (productivity devices). I also believe that while TouchWiz is a big bloated mess, there actually are some useful features, like multi-window and the S-Pen software of the Note line. So with the S5, while my overall impression of the device is a negative one (SPOILER ALERT), there are some things about it that I actually like. Read on to see what they are.

The good

"Recents" button instead of a "menu" button
Finally! It may not be software buttons, but it's a start. The menu button was just pointless as apps now have a menu button (action overflow button) in their action bar. Having a recents button finally brings the Galaxy S5 to the Android 4.x world. We knew this was coming as the recent tablets from Samsung unveiled at CES all came with a recents button instead of a menu button. Now that they have the right buttons, the next step would be to put them in the right order.
Hello recent apps button! Image: GSM Arena
IP67 rating
Instead of releasing a waterproof version of the S5 like they did with the S4 last year, the Galaxy S5 already comes with an IP67 rating for dust and water resistance. This should mean that we wont see an Active variant this year, which is a good move. An added feature that doesn't negatively impact on the phone's performance. Except having to continuously open the microUSB port for charging, but it's a small inconvenience. Having the IP67 rating is definitely a +1 for the S5.

OK, Google 
Now, I can't find any video demonstration of this, but if you look at the Google Search widget on the home screen of the Galaxy S5, you can see the "Say "Ok Google" " promt, indicating that the S5 will allow you to activate Google Search (Google Now) via voice command directly from the home screen, just like on the Nexus 5's Google Now Launcher. This to me is a great addition, especially with how Samsung used to hide Google Now beneath a long press of the home button, which then needed another press of the Google Search icon to launch it. Even third party custom launchers like Nova and Action Launcher don't have this hotword functionality, so this is another great addition to the S5.
OK, Google! Image: Android Police
No new bloatware
On the S3 and S4, we saw a flurry of new bloatware from Samsung, mainly the Smart features like Smart Stay and Smart Pause, and others like Air Gestures. On the S5 however, I didn't see any new software bloat from Samsung. Not adding any new bloat is a step in the right direction, but another step should have been to remove some of the bloat that was already there, which leads us to the bad things about the S5.

The bad

TouchWiz
Like I said, not adding new bloat is just the first step, the second would've been to remove some bloat all together. Samsung did actually remove their Media Hub from the S5, but that's not enough. TouchWiz still takes up 8GB of storage space. This is the exact same problem that plagued the S4 last year. This means the 16GB model will come with only 50% of the advertised storage space. A huge blow to the consumer.

Design
I think the problem most people have with the design of the S5 stems from two factors. The first, is that Samsung once again released a phone with a largely similar design to the predecessor from the previous year. The second, is that the main thing that Samsung actually did change, is horrible. If you've spent any amount of time on the tech side of the internet, you'll know about all the ridicule that the S5's dimpled back has received. I already addressed why the S5's design has gotten stale while the Xperia's hasn't yet in a Google+ post, and before you talk about the dimpled back on the S5 and how it's unfair to criticise it when the first gen Nexus 7's back was fine, I already wrote a rebuttal. The faux-leather back from the Note 3 would've been a much better design than this.
Galaxy S5, band-aid edition. Image: Google+
Fingerprint scanner
If Apple didn't put TouchID on the iPhone 5s, do you think Samsung would've put a fingerprint scanner in the Galaxy S5? We'll never know, but we can speculate. Anyway, I've seen a few videos demonstrating how it works, and it just seems clunky. Having to swipe over the bottom of the screen and then onto the home button isn't as easy as just touching the home button, like how Apple did it. Just to be clear, I think the idea of a fingerprint scanner on a phone is dumb already. I don't like it on the iPhone anymore than on the S5, but at least Apple's implementation is much more easier than Samsung's.
Many S5 users might encounter these warnings quite regularly. Image: YouTube
Heart rate sensor
If I didn't like the fingerprint scanner, you know I won't like the heart rate sensor. People who actually need to monitor their heart will already own a dedicated (and probably physician recommended) heart monitor. They wouldn't buy a phone to do that. It will be cool once or twice, and will be a cool gimmick to show to a friend, but how often will you actually need or want to measure your heart rate anyway? If you are a fitness freak, you would probably own dedicated health equipment anyway, so why does it need to be in a phone? What's next? A sphygmomanometer (blood pressure pump) that can connect to your phone? 

Like I said in the intro, I'm not largely impressed with the S5. Not because of marginal spec bumps, I'm fine with the specs. It's the software and hardware that I'm less thrilled about. All the talk about "going back to basics", and how TouchWiz was supposed to be a bit less, TouchWiz-y, it all never materialised. It still might be on the cards. I mean, there are some small steps in the right direction like I said earlier, but Samsung still have a long way to go in my mind if they want to create a phone that people other than Samsung fans will be excited about.